Senator Penny Wong

2018 McKinnon Political Leader of the Year

Senator Penny Wong has been named the McKinnon Political Leader of the Year for 2018 for her leadership and advocacy in promoting a more tolerant and inclusive Australia and for shaping Australia’s foreign policy dialogue.

Over the course of 2018, Senator Wong outlined a forward-looking foreign policy agenda that was particularly impressive considering her contributions have been made from opposition, rather than government, without the benefit and resources of a government department. This included a more independent stance in our relationship with the United States, a more mature but firm position with China, together with domestic preparation for Australia’s future in Asia and the Pacific through the FutureAsia initiative. Both government and opposition parties in other western democracies have exhibited tendencies towards narrow populist and nationalistic policies. This is particularly tempting for opposition parties. Yet Senator Wong has thoughtfully and coherently led the opposition Australian Labor Party on its approach to foreign policy and this has strongly opposed, rather than succumb, to these pressures.

In addition to her achievements in foreign policy development, Senator Wong has upheld an exemplary standard of behaviour in the parliament through a politically divisive year. As Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong consistently sought to lift the standard of conduct and behaviour for MPs and Senators through her own contribution to those debates and strength of character. Examples include working with the Government to deliver a bipartisan rejection of Senator Fraser Anning’s ‘final solution’ first speech; her successful challenge to the Government to overturn its support for the “it’s OK to be white” motion moved by One Nation; and her
admonishment of a cabinet minister who threatened to name smear the reputations of female political advisors.

Senator Wong is the first Asian-born member of an Australian cabinet. She is also the first female openly-LGBTI Australian federal parliamentarian and federal cabinet minister. Senator Wong has emerged as the leading champion for an Australia that is more tolerant of religious, cultural and gender diversity. She is a powerful force for overcoming the invisible cultural barriers many
Australians still confront every day.

Senator Wong has a formidable reputation for forensic scrutiny of government in Senate Estimates Hearings, leading the cross-examinations of ministers and officials across multiple portfolios, to expose maladministration, waste and failings in government policy.

Senator Wong is also known for exemplifying bi-partisan collaboration when needed, notably her strong professional relationship with Government Leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, helps contribute to a more effective Senate and Parliament.

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The McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership is a collaboration between the Susan McKinnon Foundation and the University of Melbourne.

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